Beloved for its music, medieval pageantry and romance, the original 1960 Lerner and Loewe musical was a bit heavy-handed in terms of story — but that cannot be said of David Lee‘s rendition at the Pasadena Playhouse. The director, known for his television writing and directing work (Frasier and Wings) and for such plays as Can-Can, streamlined the story and reduced the cast to a mere eight, and the result is downright wonderful — the story is stronger, King Arthur’s pain more Shakespearean, and the music every bit as luscious.
The whole production is sparer than the original, from the cleverly minimalist set to the simple costumes, which look medieval even on the actor wearing a pair of blue jeans. At first, the weak link in the central trio of actors appears to be one of the two Shannons: Shannon Stoeke, who plays Arthur. He starts out seeming a bit generic, and his singing voice is unremarkable, but by the time he gets to “How to Handle a Woman,” he has become Arthur, the good-hearted king who never wavers in his love for his wife, Guenevere (Shannon Warne), even when she betrays him with Sir Lancelot. Warne’s voice is rich and radiant, and Lancelot (Doug Carpenter) has a voice as robust as his substantial chest, which the audience gets to gaze upon for a spell. (The audience also sees a tasteful, two-second nude scene of lovers Lancelot and Guenevere.)
Lee’s version of Camelot is much less grand than the Broadway original, but it better suits the story, which is ultimately one of loss and vanquished idealism — not a happy tale in the end, but one that resonates. And it still leaves you humming “If Ever I Would Leave You” for days afterward.
Because of the very brief nude scene, the Playhouse is not recommending this production for children, but almost any kid over 12 has seen far more on TV.
Through February 7
39 S. El Molino Ave., Pasadena
Tickets $62 – $85